Senators approved the administration’s full request but blocked a stronger measure to accelerate OPM’s cyber upgrades.
A Senate panel Thursday approved a $21 million increase for the Office of Personnel Management to fix IT security vulnerabilities -- the full amount requested by the Obama administration earlier this year -- but blocked a more expensive measure that would have further accelerated OPM’s cyber upgrades.
The Republican-controlled appropriations committee defeated an amendment to a fiscal 2016 spending bill offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., which would have nearly doubled the amount of new cyber funding and allowed OPM to complete its controversial IT modernization plan a year ahead of schedule.
OPM announced earlier this month that sensitive information on more than 21 million federal employees and contractors had been exposed in a series of related cyber intrusions into agency networks.
Overall, the Senate committee approved a total of $24 million in new funding for OPM, which fully funds the agency’s cyber upgrades, according to the committee. The overall funding is about 10 percent more than the current funding level, but about $7.5 million less than the Obama administration requested in total. The House appropriations committee in its version of the spending bill approved the administration’s full request for OPM funding.
Mikulski’s “emergency” funding bump, defeated on a voice vote, would have provided an additional $37 million to “accelerate the completion” of OPM’s IT modernization plan and finish the project a year earlier than planned, she said.
“OPM should not have to wait another year in order to protect this sensitive personal data by implementing hardware and software upgrades recommended by security experts,” Mikulski said during the bill markup.
Republicans, however, balked at the price tag. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said the amount ultimately agreed to by the committee fully funds the $21 million initially requested by OPM, and suggested managerial incompetence was at the root of OPM’s cyber woes.
“Often our first answer in Washington is more money when it comes to solving problems,” Boozman said. “But the more we learn about what happened at OPM, the more we learn that it was not just that the old systems were breached; it was the new systems also. More money isn't going to solve the management problem either. And let's be honest: This appears primarily to be a management problem."
Boozman pledged additional hearings on OPM’s planned upgrades.
Auditors have expressed misgivings about the agency’s planned IT overhaul, noting that cost and schedule estimates were not reliable.
“I don't know what they want to spend this money for,” Boozman said of the planned upgrades. “But I do know there's lots of controversy on the plan that they've got proposed."
Separately, the committee unanimously approved an amendment, also offered by Mikulski, to expand the coverage of credit monitoring and identity-theft protections to breach victims to at least 10 years and liability protections of $5 million.
OPM is currently offering some 4.2 million victims of the first breach -- whose personnel files were stolen by hackers -- 18 months of credit monitoring. Victims of a second larger breach -- covering background investigation files -- have not yet been notified by OPM.
(Image via Hermin/ Shutterstock.com)